Global Policy Forum

Do More to Aid Nourishment of Very Young,


By Barbara Crossette

New York Times
August 24, 1999

United Nations - Secretary General Kofi Annan told the Iraqi government Monday that it could be doing more to help mothers and children under the program that allows Iraq to export oil to raise money for food, medicine and other essential goods. In a report to the Security Council on the program, Annan also asked that the council's sanctions committee stop blocking the export to Iraq of goods like water and sanitation equipment which would also contribute to better health. Most of the holds put on contracts in the committee come from representatives of the United States or, occasionally Britain, the countries that take the hardest line against Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein. The oil-for-food program was started in 1996 to ease civilian suffering under economic sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Annan's report precedes a debate to resume next month about how to deal with Iraq now that it has effectively ended arms inspections -- which would have allowed sanctions to be lifted once questions on nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs had been answered. As the debate nears, the Iraqis, faced with mounting evidence that they have significantly stalled at least parts of a relief program, still face these questions. Even so, they continue to accuse the United States of being entirely responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iraqis under the sanctions.

As officials of the oil-for-food program explained Monday, Iraq's revenues from oil exports have risen sharply in recent months with higher world oil prices. But the government has actually been spending less on nutritionally enhanced food products that would benefit women and children in central and southern Iraq, where Hussein's government is in control and where 85 percent of the Iraqi people live. At current oil price levels, Iraq stands to make as much as $6.3 billion in oil sales in the six-month period ending in November, Annan said in the report. Officials here said that Iraq had so far budgeted only $6.6 million in nutritional supplements for mothers and small children, down from $15 million when the program began in 1996. In northern Iraq, program officials said, the United Nations and local Kurdish officials decide what to buy. More money is allocated there for foods like high-protein biscuits and milk fortified with nutrients to build up malnourished children. Annan's report echoes and broadens findings of a report released two weeks ago by UNICEF, the U.N. children's fund, which surveyed the health of Iraqi children under 5.

Benon Sevan, director of the U.N. Iraq program, said Monday that the Iraqis had not heeded earlier recommendations to increase orders of special nutritional products. "In the light of the UNICEF survey," Sevan said in an interview, "there should be serious attention given to targeted feeding programs in order to achieve immediate benefits." The secretary-general's report, which Sevan will discuss with the Security Council on Thursday, faulted Iraq for other omissions in its civilian aid programs.

It said that working and living conditions for Iraqis and United Nations-appointed foreign experts at Mina al Bakr, where a large part of Iraqi oil exports are loaded, were unhygienic and unsafe. The port of Um Qasr, through which imports pass, is also deteriorating, slowing inspections and quality testing as goods arrive. Both are under Iraqi government control. The quality testing is in itself a problem, the report noted. It cited four-month delays in examinations of tuberculosis and diphtheria vaccines intended for Kurdish regions, where 13 percent of oil earnings must be spent, according to the Security Council resolution setting up the program.

According to the report, the Iraqis have also been ordering less essential food for the general public -- among these cheese, milk and lentils or beans -- which has lowered the number of calories provided in monthly food rations to Iraqis in government-controlled areas. In Kurdish areas, calories are higher. Sevan said children in Kurdish areas look healthier every time he visits. Although holds have been put on contracts for needed water and sanitation supplies, those goods that do arrive in Iraq do not always get distributed quickly, according to the report. "Large quantities of essential materials remain in storage," it read. A drought in Iraq has worsened water problems.

There have been persistent Iraqi complaints about the quality of goods imported under the oil-for-food program -- the explanation Iraq gave for sending a ship carrying baby products and cottonseed back to Dubai last week. The secretary-general said in his report that the Iraqi government, which chooses the suppliers, should "procure better quality commodities through more reliable and reputable contractors."

More Information on Sanctions against Iraq


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.